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Authoritative Knowledge & the Public Role of the University

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  1. Authoritative Knowledge & the Public Role of the University How complexity challenges our assumptions & opens alternate possibilities Dr Deborah Osberg University of Exeter, UK AERA, April 9th, 2011 1

  2. Invited by KatholiekeUniversiteit of Leuven to: “present some of your latest thinking on how the emergentist logic underlying complexity theory calls forth inventionalistic and experimenting education serving democratic participation in the face of uncertain and multi-dimensional matters of public concern”. Authoritative knowledge defines what is worth striving for and the university has a part to play in this Leuven, March 4th 2011

  3. In defining what is worth struggling for, the University has, since the1700’s, been seen as an important “guiding light” for society: a “public good”. Academics removed from “humdrum” of everyday world to contemplate “broader issues” and question “everyday truths” including all forms of authority. Its habit of critically questioning the authority of the “everyday world” is what gave it the authority to lead the way in defining what was worth struggling for in society (and why ).

  4. Globalisation and postmodernisation have exposed the colonising impetus of Western claims to authority through “critical reason” (Usher & Edwards, 1994) Shifts in the production and legitimation of knowledge (see Gibbons et al, 1994, Lyotard, 1984) have brought about a situation in which the boundaries between the university and the rest of society are becoming increasingly blurred (Webster, 2009). Leuven, March 4th 2011

  5. FOR EXAMPLE: • The university is no longer the only (or even main) source of the production of knowledge (Edgerton 1996) • Traditional disciplinary forms of knowledge challenged by performative knowledge (Gibbons et al, 1994). • Many forms of HE now brought into fold as universities putting an end to the common purposes of the university (Bridges 2000). • Criteria for & means of validating knowledge claims are widening as knowledge becomes more of a commodity (Gewertz). Knowledge with a capital K has given way to “knowledges”(Barnett, 2000).

  6. Simons, Haverhals & Biesta The University Revisited (2007, p. 400, in Studiesin Philosophy & Education) … [the university is] no longer regarded as an institution that offers an orientation for society; rather . . . it is society and its needs that . . . orient the university. • Should the university (merely) serve the economic needs and demands of society? • Or should it have some other “public” or “civic” role that exceeds or complements its socio-economic role in contemporary society?

  7. “it is not only . . . that universities have thoroughly changed when compared to their ‘traditional’ predecessors. Also, the conditions under which they are supposed to . . . fulfill their traditional “public role” appear to be very different than how they were in the past . . .” (p. 400). • “we [therefore] cannot simply rely on authoritative ideas or principles, which are vaguely reminiscent of our university traditions. Instead, we need. . . [to] take account of the fact that our background (horizon) has thoroughly changed in comparison to traditions that still implicitly inform our judgement about what universities can do, should do or should not do.” (p. 402). Simons, Haverhals & Biesta The University Revisited (2007, p. 400)

  8. Ron Barnett University Knowledge in an Age of Supercomplexity(2000, p. 415) • Supercomplexity: arises under conditions of conceptual overload . . . The outcome of a multiplicity of frameworks . . . Forms of “right knowing” no longer clear . . . Rival forms of knowing claiming legitimacy. (the postmodern position . . . the “pluralisation of authority) • Complexity: that state of affairs in which the demands before one exceed the resources to meet them (in principle manageable if only one had the resources to meet them).

  9. Immanuel Kant What is Enlightenment? (1784, online) • argued that to be “enlightened” was to have the resolve and courage to question authority or, in his words: “… to use one's understanding without guidance from another.” 9

  10. Stephen Hopgood Moral Authority, Modernity and the Politics of the Sacred (2009, p. 232) “… the very idea of the possibility of a totalizing authority is in doubt. This is one of modernity’s prime achievements—challenging the authority claims of those who urge us to pile the cadavers even higher. Authority per se is now contested. And this contest is permanent.” (p. 232)

  11. Hannah Arendt What is Authority? (1969) “the very term [authority] has become clouded by controversy and confusion . . . [the modern world has entered] a constant, ever-widening, and deepening crisis of authority.” . . .a CRISIS of authority

  12. Bill Readings The University in Ruins(1996) Frank Webster Social Sciences at the Crossroads: The Postmodern University (2009, online) “I have no doubt that universities will continue to survive, but I do fear that maybe they will go on, at least in part, as zombie institutions (the living dead) since it is unclear what their distinguishing features will be” 12

  13. IF the notion of “the university” as the “fount of authoritative knowledge” has been seriously unsettled [by “supercomplexity” etc] . . . . . . then what is its “new” public role? When framed in this way, the debate founders on the question of whether, in the face of the pluralisation of authority, it is even possible to authorise a new role for the university in contemporary Democratic societies. ....who decides?

  14. It founders (when framed in this way) because any (authoritative) attempt to define what the university should become—which is effectively to argue against other (authoritative) possibilities/positions—is immediately implicated in a performative contradiction i.e., it is an attempt to solve the problemof the “pluralisation of authority” by putting in place one authoritative solution.

  15. Polarised on the basis of warrants for authority Performative contradiction Objectivist / relativist Modernist / postmodernist Foundationalist / antifoundationalist

  16. Ron Barnett University Knowledge in an Age of Supercomplexity(2000, p. 415) • Supercomplexity: arises under conditions of conceptual overload . . . The outcome of a multiplicity of frameworks . . . Forms of “right knowing” no longer clear . . . Rival • Complexity: that state of affairs in which the demands before one exceed the resources to meet them(in principle manageable if only one had the resources to meet them). EMERGENCE (more than the sum of its parts) But we can’t make something out of nothing!

  17. “Going On” A different (emergentist) way of understanding change . . . growth . . . progress . . . hierarchy Modern/postmodern epistemological positions are polarised on the basis of holding assumptionsabout change, hierarchy, growth & progress (of knowledge) that are challenged by emergentist logic. This has implications for the way we understand “authoritative knowledge” which is underpinned by the notion of hierarchy

  18. Michel Foucault Nietzsche, Genealogy, History(1984, pp. 76-100). “Knowledge is not made for understanding; it is made for cutting.” Little knowledge (deficit/deficient) Much knowledge (authority) Cartesian growth of knowledge & understandingtowards an ideal (e.g. truth)

  19. MODERN: Selection of “winners” through an objective and value-neutral process (efficacy). • POSTMODERN: Selection of “winners” an effect of social processes that allow dominant members of society to dictate the terms under which knowledge is created and judged (rules of the contest). Little knowledge (deficit/deficient) Much knowledge (authority) Cartesian growth of knowledge & understandingtowards an ideal (e.g. truth)

  20. Michel Foucault What is Enlightenment? (1984, p. 48) “How can the growth of capabilitiesbe disconnected from the [linear] intensification of power relations?”

  21. Ilya Prigogine Order out of Chaos (1984, p. 170) At these crisis points the system is forced to do something unprecedented in the history of the system The system “cuts” into a new level of order. Points of undecidability/crisis Distance from equilibrium

  22. Growth/progress as scalar intensification. • Growth/progress as unprecedented change. • “Cutting through” to a new level of order. “Knowledge is not made for [increasing / intensifying] understanding; it is made for cutting [through].” (Foucault)

  23. Hannah Arendt What is Authority? (1969, online) • the founding of Rome “became to the Romans the central, decisive, unrepeatable beginning of their whole history, a unique event” (p. 17) “all authority derives from this foundation, binding every act back to the sacred beginningof Roman history, adding, as it were, to every single moment the whole weight of the past.” (p. 19). 23

  24. Hannah Arendt What is Authority? (1969, online) • the open-ended augmentation of the foundation rather than something that comes about through (competitive) striving for a preconceived goal positioned in the future. • Auctoritas, the property of being able to confer (legal) validity on an act, • Auctor, the one who is able to confer this validity, • Augere, to augment, increase, enrich or add. 24

  25. Hannah Arendt What is Authority? (1969, online) “what authority or those in authority constantly augment is the foundation” (p. 18). • The auctor is therefore the person who augments, increases, or adds to the foundation. • As the foundation is “augmented” or added to, it becomes different than what it was, it is, in effect a new or enriched (augmented) foundation. The auctor is the originator or author of this new foundation. 25

  26. Ilya Prigogine Order out of Chaos (1984, p. 170) At these crisis points the system is forced to do something unprecedented in the history of the system At these points we find and found a new way forward, we cut into a new level of order… a new way forward is authored/authorised Points of undecidability/crisis = points of authority/authoring Distance from equilibrium (or “input” from “outside”)

  27. What does this have to do with the university? • University as “centre of enlightenment” and “guiding light” for society

  28. Conclusions (regarding the public role of the university) • “Knowledge monopolies” into which people are encultured (into whose culture? By what or whose authority?). • “Educational democracies” which facilitate the coming into being of radically new FORMS of knowledge (rather than only shaping existing knowledge to better serve society’s needs). The university as a “societal laboratory”? 28

  29. Thank you!